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7 things that surprised me about the 2022 Rams

Sean McVay and company were supposed to compete for a Super Bowl but those hopes died quickly.

NFL: DEC 25 Broncos at Rams Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The collapse of the 2022 Los Angeles Rams is perhaps a surprise in its entirety. Sean McVay’s team had the worst follow-up campaign for any Super Bowl-winning team in modern NFL history, and there were a string of smaller surprises that all led to the bigger one. LA hoped to win back-to-back world championships, but instead they found themselves at the opposite end of the standings.

These are seven developments over the past season that came as a surprise:

Joseph Noteboom wasn’t ready for his moment

The Rams believed Noteboom was the successor to Andrew Whitworth, who rode off into retirement after the team’s victory in Super Bowl LVI. LA signed Noteboom to a three-year, $40M contract extension and anointed him as the next man up at left tackle.

But the results were disappointing from the onset. Former Ram Von Miller got the best of Noteboom in Week 1. The left tackle struggled off and on until his 2022 season ended with an Achilles injury in Week 6.

It’s hard to see the Rams having confidence in Noteboom securing Matthew Stafford’s blindside to start the 2023 campaign.

Alaric Jackson is the future at left tackle

Noteboom’s free agent contract should have sealed the deal on this conversation for the short-term, but ultimately it was Jackson that solidified the left side of the line after Noteboom was lost for the year. Unfortunately, Jackson started only two games before he was shut down for the season with a blood clot issue.

He went on a somewhat bizarre Twitter rant this week about the future of the offensive line, which is also worth checking out.

The Michael Hoecht OLB experiment worked

Hoecht entered the NFL as an interior defensive lineman, but he always transcended the typical constraints of the position with his speed and by playing special teams in a gunner role. The OLB experiment started due to a numbers crunch - Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis were on their way out of LA and rookie Daniel Hardy was still on IR - but the team lucked into Hoecht’s production and versatility as an edge rusher. He finished with 4.5 sacks in seven games at his new position.

The Rams cannot talk themselves into starting Hoecht in 2023. Instead, he is best leveraged as an important role player and situation contributor behind two high-level starters at OLB.

Bobby Wagner took run defense to new heights

I underestimated just how impactful Wagner would be to the Rams run defense, and the combination of he and Aaron Donald, A’Shawn Robinson, and Greg Gaines resulted in a brink wall.

Los Angeles had the highest team run defense grade from PFF. They allowed only a single 100-yard rusher, which came in Week 17 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. The Rams were without Donald and Robinson, and Greg Gaines (shoulder) was extremely limited for that game.

Wagner isn’t his younger self in terms of pass coverage, but he certainly shored things up for LA on the ground as everything else around him was falling apart.

Allen Robinson doesn’t have much left in the tank

The Rams gave Robinson a three-year, $46.5M contract in free agency after losing out on the Von Miller sweepstakes, and in turn he gave them just 33 catches for 339 yards and 3 TD’s before suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 12. his longest catch was just 29-yards, which alone is more than he had in five of his 10 games.

Jordan Fuller’s disappearing act continued

After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Fuller was a surprising day one starter for the Rams in Brandon Staley’s defense. He took on “green dot” duties in his second year as the defensive signal caller, but he suffered a significant ankle injury just before the playoffs and was replaced by 37-year old Eric Weddle.

In 2022 Fuller was relegated to the third safety behind Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott, which was a far fall from grace as a defensive captain the year before. He was on the field for only three games this season and has been on injured reserve since Week 4.

Matthew Stafford didn’t elevate his supporting cast

How repeatable is another Super Bowl win with Matthew Stafford? Did the stars align just perfectly for him to earn a championship ring in 2021? History may remember his playoff run similar to Joe Flacco’s 2012 stretch or Eli Manning’s 2007 performance that took down the undefeated New England Patriots.

These are periods of performance that don’t align with the rest of those players’ careers (even the totality of those respective seasons), and in 2022 Stafford’s play came back down to earth.

The offensive line was falling apart, yes. The receivers outside of Cooper Kupp failed to step up in a meaningful way. The running game and backs were ineffective. But you expect the quarterback you are paying $40M annually to elevate his team despite those issues, and objectively Stafford was part of the problem.

The Atlanta Falcons didn’t have much of a pass rush this season, but Stafford still managed to throw two interceptions and keep that game within a single score. LA’s signal caller also threw a pick-six against the Carolina Panthers - a team that had just fired their head coach for incompetence - to surrender a halftime lead. With a chance to right the ship and salvage the season in Week 9 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stafford managed to complete less than half of his 27 passes (48%) for 165 yards.

Stafford had a chance to show us he was more of the quarterback we saw during last year’s playoffs instead of the guy from Detroit.